Today was a particularly squirlly day. I learned that if I ever need to get the attention of a 6th grader, I can just do some one arm pull-ups. (We have a bar that frames the edge of our classroom tent; perfect for pull-ups.) I thought one student's eyes were going to pop out of his skull at the sight of a teacher busting out some one arms. I always could count on that student to take a wheelbarrow and trek the 300 yards across campus to our mulch pile by himself or with a friend. Now I know I can.
The class went silent and I didn't have to raise my voice once.
FBI = Fungus, Bacterica, Invertibrates = Nature's recyclers. A clever play on words. Not only is FBI a famous local-only surf clothing line, From Big Island, but he acronym rolls off the tongue of even a first grader for some odd reason. We talk about FBI in class as the world's most efficient recyclers. The miracle is that without FBI there would be no way for the nutrients in a papaya peal to get to the starfruit. We can help FBI work by providing layers of green (fresh, nitrogen) and brown (old, carbon) to feed the maximum FBI. And we can whacking back garden jungle to create compost piles.
Teamwork and effective tool use are two important components of the kind of work needed to build big compost piles. I have to be on constant watch during hard core tool work because little children have no idea of spacial awareness. The most well-meaning first grader will throw their biggest shovel dig with a friend right next to them or run down a gravel hill holding clippers no problem. Jobs were bean picking, bean shelling, rock moving, vegetation clipping.
On the way to a more controlled garden, students discovered everything from Hawaiian Blind Snakes to white cockroaches, to a spider eating a centipede. Teams of students no one would have put together join to move rocks or clip a tunnel. Most gardeners get into a groove and go to town working for the earth until I tell them its time to clean up.
Our students work hard like FBI. Kids and microorganisms have more in common than I thought.
I am totally enchanted by my herbal medicine magic class. They are eight kids strong, grades 1-5; overflowing with excitement to be in the garden and wowed by herbs.
We spent the first class making journals and collecting leaf specimens. I told them that in Hawaii the first people that grew medicine here honored garden gods and goddesses by introducing oneself and leaving an offering. The offering could be a song or a shell, but a blessing should be left whenever an herbal practitioner harvests their medicine.
We sang the first verse of "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." as a gift for the herbs.
Little people barely able to traverse the garden without tripping because they are so small, with journals and pencils in hand rushed into our overgrown garden like they were going to the fair. "This is lemongrass. The tea is good for your brain, " I told them. Immediately, mini fingers reaching out for leaf samples. Just as immediately, "Ms. Krista can I have tape?" They secured samples into journals students made out of scratch paper.
We examined 15 herbs/weeds around the campus, and took notes about each one.
Last class, I handed out the herb collection bags I made them out of my old t-shirts (that's not gross is it?) and made medicinal infusions. Students copied down that an infusion is cooking the healing properties of an herb into another substance like water or oil. They also wrote down two magical recipes. Children gathered equal parts mint, lavender, and lemon balm to make a tummy settling, restful tea and a little rosemary and a lot of lemongrass to make a brain energizing tea.
The washed herbs were cut up and placed in a big pot on the garden hot plate by careful children. I got crazy and let them sweeten the concoctions with agave nectar (none of them had tasted it and of course they all wanted seconds). Back in the day, traditional Hawaiian medicine was often given with plenty sugar cane to make it palatable. "I like this infusion Ms. Krista!" shouted one second grader. Most treated the yummy and healthful teas like treasure and preserved them by replacing the water in their take-home bottles with their tasty new healing remedy.
My classes with these inspired young gardeners are no less than enchanting. When these kids enter the garden, butterflies are more colorful and birds more singsongy. Next week Medicine Woman Darlene and her husband Earl are coming to herbal magic class to talk about the wonders of ginger! Enchanted again!
Our seventh and eighth grade gardeners were stoked to tame the jungle in their garden. These lucky kids get to use machetes and sickles so they are extra excited to get to whacking. Of course, it was hot, so many worked for about 20 minutes before getting too sweaty to carry on. The sweaty kids moved to the shade to take plastic tape off the cardboard we used to cover the land after we whacked down the weeds. The whacked down weeds and grass will be great biomass to create soil once they are dead. The cardboard smothers unwanted vegetation; no poison necessary and we get to reuse rubbish. Some students relished in the time to hack down banana stalks and remove big rocks. Now, we get to let nature take it's course and spend the next few weeks on garden field trips and eating fruit!
School is back in session! The garden is alive with children once again. The garden grew into a bean jungle over the summer months. Ms. Melissa and I tried extra super hard to keep from fighting back the aggressive vine so children could enjoy the remarkable growth.
Student gardeners were absolutely delighted to re-discover their garden. Our bean tunnel grew into a bean cave! Some students discovered a palm-sized garden spider cocooning up a three-inch centipede for lunch. It was like orca vs. great white shark in our garden. Who would have known the spider would win? We watched a gecko snatch a different spider, and then spit it out. The gecko crawled away with the bug the spider had been wrapping up. The spider was left with its' barren web and no lunch. We saw butterflies mating and found a few praying mantis'. Grasshoppers the color of limes were bombing the entire garden - fluttering around disturbed for the first time in months.
I was excited to watch children running for their favorite herb snacks - mint and licorice fennel among their favorites. We dined on juicy starfruit, guava, and bananas. "A monkey was here!" exclaimed a new first grader who discovered empty yellow banana peals on the ground. He looked up and found the rest of the thriry-pound banana pod still on the tree. "Can we eat some too?" he inquired.
The first class I took into the garden found a huge stinging nettle munching some spinach. We were reminded of the bummer and extreme shame that these invasive species bring to our perfect Island habitat. I was thankful that the student was not stung and I got a specimen to show the rest of the garden students. I was reminded that telling the children the truth about the hazards we import into our Island in the name of ornamental palms is the only way to keep them safe; both so our littlest explorers of the wild don't get hurt and so they can make change someday.
I told every class that they are the hope for the future. There was a day in Hawaii where every person was a gardener who knew how to grow the food needed to fill their own bellies and that of their family's. Now, 1-2% of our population are farmers (that statistic is reflected nationally and locally) and the average age of those farmers is 65 years and older.
I hope the satisfaction our students receive from growing their own food while they are in elementary school will produce the radical change we need for a healthy future. Wonder Garden students are planting the seeds for a healthy future and they know it!!
Our 7/8 grade gardeners made the front page of our locally awesome West Hawaii Today newspaper as a result of our hard work at Hulihe'e Palace. The story link is below.
7/8 graders aren't known for sharing their innermost thoughts with adults so I was really pleased to read their intelligent insights. Their words cut deep for some reason. Wrtiting this blog makes me realize a validation of my precious personal energy in their thoughts; every trip to the Palace was priceless and painful each time. I had to schelude field trips, arrange van transportation and permission slips, haul the tools, maintain the rewarding relationships, get together research opportunities, on and on every time we traveled to seaside Hulihe'e Palace; plenty for a mother, wife, activist, and full time employee with two part time jobs. The extremely rewarding class comes sandwiched in the middle of a eight hour stint of a 13 hour work day and seemed to suck my energy like an old refridgerator.
The mininte I read their precise and thoughtful words in the article, the mixed blessings underlying my experience became crystal clear as another startling run-in with the Infinite Wisdom. It was a dream come true to see my beloved pre-teen gardeners with reporters and photographers snapping shots and trying to get interviews for being good gardeners. When I stick a challenging committment out, students stick a committment out, and in the end we all reap the beneifits. I am humbled to be reminded how light my heavy loads really are and honored to serve the Earth by taking kids to work a Palace. Thank you so much Auntie Sally for giving our students such an empowering opportunity.
Please read the article: http://www.westhawaiitoday.com/sections/news/local-news/students-garden.html
With 10 hours before the assembly to spare, I finally totaled our school's data from these many months of recording greywater and paper recycling numbers. Students sat still and quiet as I (with the help of my handsome son assistanting) reviewed total pounds of paper we recycled, how many pencils Mr. G. and I picked up in nooks and crannies all over our campus, and how many gallons of water our garden class' greywater system supplied to thirsty plants.
Students cheered with bold volume as I told them that our school had recycled 1977 pounds of paper. Ocean helped me unfold a perfectly-fine, thrown-away segment of that brown paper that comes on big rolls that I had stowed away for reuse months earlier. With ink just barely dried, the reused paper unfolded at least 6 ft long.
It depicted the mathmatical wizardry of data. With every one of those 1997 pounds accounting for 16 onces, 16 X 1977 is 31,632 ounces. If one piece of paper equals .12 onces, dividing 31632 by .12 equals 263,600 pieces of paper recycled by our school. With our school population totaling 185, dividing 263,600 by 185 is 1425; the number of pieces of paper each student used at our school and recycled last school year. With the words barely out my mouth, I heard two kids in front whisper to each other, "No way, I didn't do that. Nuhuah." I said, "Hey guys and gals, remember when you point blame at other people, you have three fingers pointing back at you." Of course, they all pointed at each other to see if three fingers really do point back. They do.
Wow said the kids. I pulled out three reams of copy paper, 500 each times three, equaling just under the number of papers used by our students. 1425 - the amount of sheets of paper used by each student in 2010/11. Paper makes up the most matter in our landfills, said the graph I showed from a "Begining Reader" pamphlet I picked out of our recycling as I was shleping it around one day. Americans discard over 80 million pounds last year alone. Paper is a biodegradable and recyclable substance that can't biodegrade when it ends up in oxygen-free, toxic as all get out, landfills. We kept 1977 pounds out of our beloved Waikoloa landfill; a sludge basin just a quarter mile mountain of the sea.
Take the math a step further. If one paper-producing pine tree is 850 pounds, our efforts saved two and a quarter trees; a fact I also drew on the unfolded paper.
I asked 7/8 grade students the same question a month earlier when they were pre-fiddling with the data. When I asked them if it was worth it, to haul around all this rubbish (because these kids are the students doing the data recording), they enlightened me with responses. One eighth grade boy I surf with regularly said, "How do you measure microorganisms?" Another seventh grade girl said, "Ms. Krista, you told us that these paper mills are next to rivers so they can put thier pollution there. How do you put a dollar sign on keeping pollution out of a river?"
I didn't stop the assembly to ask how the elementary students felt about saving two trees. When my son and I had been discussing the findings earlier he said, "If we keep that up, we'll save a whole forest."
I went on to talk about our greywater findings. Our garden sink is a shanty-town sink put together out of an old pallet and a dicarded double-bowled stainless steel sink. The drains empty into two five-gallon buckets. We keep track of how many times Ms. Melissa and I dump the filled buckets over thirsty plants through-out the school year. I showed our non-fancy data sheets to the students and unfolded the big sheet that showed our total; 870 gallons of water fed to plants instead of drained down the sewer. The other posters I pulled out showed that 870 gallons equals two hot tubs worth of water and 58 showers (two months worth!). Kids were wowed.
Last item; pencils. We calculated that Mr. G picked up an additional 223 pencils since March, when he had picked up 233 since Sept. Between August and Sept, he had picked up 438 pencils! In all, Mr. G picked up 839 pencils this year!! We love you Mr. G!
Like I told the kids, I feel inspired by this data. It shows that IPCS students are doing some important work, putting rubbish in its new place - the recycler or the compost - more than ever before. No other public schools are doing IPCS style recyling on our Island! Our students are the change we need for a healthy future. I got all choked up and maybe even some of them did too.
My collegue told me she overheard some kids after the assembly, walking to class, saying, "I guess adults do math too." Who knew that math wizardry would be so powerful? That kids can learn recycling and the awesomeness that math can be all in one assembly? That ten-year-olds can save two trees and see the forest? I am still glowing...
What better way to study inventions but to design them yourself? What better way to learn how easy it is to recycle water than to design a drainage system that enables every student to water plants when they wash their hands?
I am bursting with hope for the future to announce that our third and forth grade gardeners have sucessfully designed and implemented a beautiful and functional greywater system off the wasted art room sink water. Where once a drain poured perfectly useful dirty water into the gravel now lies a bamboo french drain irrigating 10 feet of space.
The greywater system is a school-wide effort. Seventh and eighth grade gardeners harvested and hauled old-growth bamboo from a friend's coffee farm. Third and fourth graders worked with IPCS Fascilities Specialist Alex Garcia using a simple wedge to split in half longways yellow-with-green-stripes bamboo the circumference of my thigh and approx 8 feet long. Students loved seeing the power of the humble wedge at work. Mr. G brought the ever-popular power drill so students could take turns drilling drain holes the legnth of the bamboo. And students lined up patiently for their turn with the awesome power sander for the smooth finishing touch.
Another class of third and fourth grades carried the bamboo to the greywater site. They hacked out spider lilies taller than they are with the efficency of a herd of beavers. Students dug a trough to lay the system's pipe, connected the bamboo to the sink drain pipe, and turned on the facet for a test run.
But alas, like any new invention, it did not work right at first. Too wide were the holes, too tall were the segment separaters in the bamboo, and not enough slope prevented water from trickling more than five inches.
I was amazed that within a few powerful seconds of thought, more than one inventor noted that added height would work with gravity to push more water down the bamboo and rocks could easily help plug the holes. We rigged up a support system for the drain connector and dug a trough to help stabalize the bamboo pipe.
Our whole ohana can see now how simple ingenuity can help recycle water. Using greywater efficiently will be a huge resource in upcoming decades. With these inventors at the helm of our country, we should be able to incorporate greywater systems into the everyday fiber of our existance.
Spring is in the air and so is sex ed. Like butterflies drying their wings fresh out of the cocoon, 5/6 graders are becoming aware that they are ready for a new flight. The segregated reproduction discussions go down in project time; just before stunned students remix on their way to garden class. No better time to talk about spinach and the vital nutrition changing bodies get from one simple serving a day.
Sitting in the shade of the school's towering mango tree, we looked at buds flowering towards ripeness. We talked about the roots of the mighty mango reaching deep into the soil and the tree's own energy bank to retrieve the nutrients to reproduce and survive; to grow blossoms that produce pollen and attract pollenators to create fruits so that seeds spread. Like the mango tree, eleven/twelve year old bodies are reaching into store banks of nutrients so they can flower and move into reproduction. As bodies grow, nutrients are needed to develope cycles and seeds and to compensate for physical changes. Buffing up with spinach every day gives muscle, blood, and organs a constant storage of nutrients ensuring straight backs and good vision in old age and shiny hair, strong skin, and sharp thinking in the meantime.
Students especially tuned into the "changing body" parts and I can hope that some of the information about the awesome spinach nutrients sunk in too.
We went to the garden and picked at least a handful of spinach leaves and a few sprigs of whatever herb they wanted. We ended up with basil, rosemary sprigs, mint, fennel, chives, lemongrass, and copious handfuls of hearty green spinach. Students got to cut up the herbs and spinach. I love that children take using kitchen knives so seriously. We melted butter, olive oil, and a few slices of garlic. After blending in spinach and salt and pepper, we added cook rice shoyu, fried for a few more seconds.
Within 10 minutes, children were sitting around our classroom table, gobbling down spinach stir-fry like little wolves. We talked about eating the "alive vibe" and maximum nutrient levels in fresh cooked spinach from your backyard vs spinach from California picked weeks ago and discussed why brown rice provides more nutrients than white. Students guessed how much money it took to prepare our garden stir-fry and couldn't believe a bunch of organic kale or spinach at the store costs $5.99 a bunch.
Eating spinach is right up there with the birds and the bees and spring and fifth and sixth graders. They all go together, right along with the mighty mango.
What do lima beans and eggplant have in common? The inch-long beans and oddly shaped, spongy purple veggies that most adults do not have the pallet to enjoy are garden student favorites, with zero students refusing to eat them and most asking for second and third servings.
When cooked up "mexican food style" with onions, Hawaiian salt, pepper, and a bit of cheese, lima beans are a garden student favorite. This week, I stewed-up beans prior to class. I lead students in harvesting lettuce, kale, and spinach leaves and making guacamole. We cut-up banana leaves to use as plates and served the array of yummy garden leaves family-style on cutting boards in the middle of the table. Beans and guacamole were spooned onto leaf plates so students could load up fresh lettuce with burrito ingredients to make "green tacos" that had students forgetting there was no tortillas or chips involved.
In third and fourth grade classes, eggplant was harvested fresh from the garden. We diced garlic for saute in olive oil and added sliced eggplant on top of the browning garlic. Each slice of eggplant was barely sprinkled with salt to remove that eggplant bitter taste and fried to golden perfection. We added about three shreds of cheese on top of each slice and sprinkled the entire pan with chopped chives. After letting the cheese melt, eggplant slices were served on banana leaf plates and gobbled up by intrigued garden students. To my shock, no student refused to eat eggplant! Most were delighted; only one or two per class was not completely enchanted by eggplant.
When asked why using banana leaf plates helps human survival, students revealed all kinds of intriguing connections. "We can just feed our FBI when we are pau." "Cutting off that leaf helps the tree make new leaves and then we get more fresh air." "We didn't have to go to the store."
Sometimes the simple things in life - spinach picked 10 minutes before becoming taco shells, fresh lettuce, eggplant toasted to perfection, green plates - are our greatest teachers.
Ms Krista says:
Everyday encounters with real garden sprites; tortuous panorama of the surf; old-growth collards; machete lessons; mantis rehab; pesto pasta. Days as a public school garden teacher on the Big Island are filled with unexpected gems of wisdom and infinite inspirations. Introducing my life as a school garden teacher...